We were pleased to learn that Netflix has pulled the graphic suicide scene from Season 1 of 13 Reasons Why. When it first aired, the scene was widely condemned by mental health experts for glamorizing suicide. It had the potential to trigger suicidal thoughts or attempts in kids struggling emotionally.
Dr. Harold S. Koplewicz, president of the Child Mind Institute, was an early voice in criticizing the show for its depiction of suicide. “Teenage suicide is contagious,” he noted when the show premiered. “We know for over three decades that when kids watch television where they depict a suicide, they’re more likely to attempt it and they’re more likely to actually kill themselves.”
Subsequent research found that there was an increased interest in suicide after the show was broadcast. Researchers found that for 19 days following the release of the show, there was a surge in online searches for suicide, including the phrases “how to commit suicide” and “how to kill yourself.”
The show’s creators originally said the controversial scene was an attempt to show the seriousness of suicide, but they made the decision to re-edit it in advance of the show’s third season premiere. “No one scene is more important than the life of the show and its message that we must take better care of each other,” explained the show’s creator, Brian Yorkey. “We believe this edit will help the show do the most good for the most people while mitigating any risk for especially vulnerable young viewers.”
While it is gratifying to see the show’s creators take a step to minimize its glamorous depiction of suicide, mental health experts still say that parents need to be aware of the messages their kids are getting from 13 Reasons Why and other popular teen programs.
One easy and important thing you can do is to watch these shows with your children. This gives you an opportunity to counteract misinformation or dangerous messages and ask your child questions about any serious topics that may come up.
While children may be more likely to attempt suicide after seeing a glamorous depiction of it on TV, there is also research that shows that kids are not more likely to make a suicide attempt when a concerned parent asks them about it. In fact the opposite is true. Teenagers who are struggling emotionally are often reluctant to admit that they need help. When a parent asks if they feel suicidal it sends the message that they are cared about, that their lives matter to someone, and asking for help is okay.